Jews find a home in Berlin

The German Example
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The Independent Online
ONE IMMIGRATION success story in Europe can be found in Germany where, since the collapse of the Communist bloc, thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union have made their home.

The Jewish community, in its official religious guise, has provided much support to these new immigrants.

Irene Runge, founder of the Berlin Jewish Cultural Centre, said the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union had been almost overwhelming for the small domestic German Jewish community.

"In the beginning, in 1989, East Berlin had about 200 members of the formal religious community attached to the synagogue. In West Berlin there were about 5,500 or 6,000. Now there are 12,000 altogether registered in Berlin.

"These growing numbers are mostly connected with immigration from the former Soviet Union," she said.

She said the synagogue was often one of the first ports of call for the new immigrants but that over the last eight or nine years a Russian language infrastructure had been established in the city - outside of the formal Jewish religious community.

"There is a whole Russian language infrastructure now; there are newspapers in Russian, a radio station, television and shops, there are video shops for example, a hairdresser's, doctors who mainly work for Russian speaking clients. But this doesn't really have much to do with the Jewish community, this is just integration."

Ms Runge said that in some towns and cities across Germany the former Soviets had established new religious communities from scratch. "Russian speakers account for up to 99 per cent in the smaller cities; here it's maybe 60 or 70 per cent."

She said the Jewish community had adapted to the overnight doubling of its numbers.

"When you have 6,000 already and 6,000 new people come in who are in social need in a way, things have to change," she said.

"Today when you go to the synagogue or to any Jewish place you will hear Russian all the time and for the people who don't speak Russian it's frustrating to go there."

But she said the needs of the new immigrants had diminished as they had found jobs, learned to speak German and made a niche for themselves within Berlin.